On God and Being: A Review of Martin Heidegger's Contributions to Philosophy

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Review of Martin Heidegger, Contributions to Philosophy (From Enowning), translated by Parvis Emad and Kenneth Maly (Indiana University Press, 1999).

Clayton Crockett
Wesley College

    Originally written between 1936 and 1938, first published in German in 1989, and finally translated into English in 1999, Heidegger's Beiträge zur Philosophie is one of the most original works of twentieth-century philosophy. The translators claim that "Heidegger's second major work" after Being and Time (1927) not only foreshadows the development of his later thinking, but "unlike Being and Time, it is the first treatise whose maturation and unfolding are not reflected in any of the lecture courses of the years 1919 to 1937." Rather, "the singular importance of Contributions to Philosophy (From Enowning) consists in its being Heidegger's first fundamental work in which 'being-historical thinking' is enacted" (xv). A careful reading and understanding of this constructive work in the context of Heidegger's thought addresses two significant issues in contemporary Continental thought and theology. I will briefly detail the first problematic, that of Heidegger's turn from his early to later philosophy, prior to laying out the general structure and content of the book. Finally, I will suggest the significance of the Beiträge for contemporary discussions of the interrelationship of God and being based on the critical interpretations of Jean-Luc Marion and Jacques Derrida.

  1. Scholars generally divide Heidegger's work into two periods, that of the earlier Heidegger which culminates in Being and Time, and that of the later Heidegger, which represents a turn away from human being or Dasein towards being itself, and a concomitant emphasis on language, poetry and Gelassenheit. Composed during the 1930s, the Beiträge represents the transition from the so-called 'early' to the 'late' Heidegger. In fact, what the Beiträge reveals is that the turning (Kehre) within Heidegger's thought is more interesting and compelling than the turn of Heidegger from Being and Time to his later philosophy. The Beiträge articulates an entire metaphysical framework tracing the jointure of many of Heidegger's important concepts enacting his central drama of being. With the publication of the Beiträge, it finally becomes possible to survey Heidegger's thought as a whole, and to this end two other works of the 1930s are important to keep in mind. The seminal essay "The Origin of the Work of Art" (1935) anticipates the philosophy of the Beiträge by presupposing it in condensed form as backdrop, while Heidegger's extensive engagement with Nietzsche in his lectures from 1936-1940 provides an impetus for his writing and stimulation for his thinking.

  2. The Beiträge zur Philosophie is far from a systematic or logical exposition of philosophy, and much more of a poetic/expressive meditation. The book is divided into a Preview, six sections or "joinings," and a final section on "Be-ing (the translators write "be-ing" to translate 'Seyn,' which Heidegger opposes to the metaphysical 'Sein')." These six joinings are: echo, playing-forth, leap, grounding, the ones to come, and the last god. What links these six joinings together is the theme of Ereignis, here translated somewhat awkwardly as "enowning," but elsewhere rendered as event, or event of appropriation. The appropriation or enowning of being is the event of its self-revelation and self-concealment. The mistake is to think that humans or any other entities (beings, Seiendes) can own or appropriate being (Sein or be-ing, Seyn) itself. Being is self-(en)owned, appropriates itself in its event, which is historical according to Heidegger's specific philosophical determination. History is epochal, or what used to be called metaphysical before Heidegger disowned the term, but only if metaphysical does not mean eternal as opposed to temporal. The structure of reality is temporality, and temporality implies not only history as development, but above all the possibility of a beginning.

  3. According to Heidegger there are two historical beginnings, philosophically speaking. The first was the original unveiling of being in Greek philosophy, which then immediately misunderstood being in terms of a determinate being. The second beginning is the beginning which Heidegger's philosophy announces, which takes its cue from Nietzsche's visionary work, although Nietzsche himself was not able to emancipate himself from metaphysics (the first beginning) (pp.124-27). The theme of the two beginnings is essential to understand the progression of the six joinings.

    1. Echo—"The echo of be-ing as not-granting" (7). The echo refers to the call of being, which is subtle and difficult to perceive, primarily because being occurs as refusal or not-granting. Being refuses human attempts at manipulation. Human science and technology goes hand in hand with classical metaphysics, and its goal is the manipulation of beings in order to capture being itself. Paradoxically, however, the more beings are manipulated in a calculative technological grasping, the more being recedes, or refuses to show itself to human efforts.

    2. Playing-forth—"The playing-forth is initially the playing forth of the first beginning, so that the first beginning brings the other beginning into play …"(7). The thinker who discerns the echo of being also hears the playing forth of the other or second beginning as a minor key underneath the predominant or major key of the first beginning. The tension of the playing-forth accumulates, gathering strength in preparation for the leap.

    3. Leap—"The leap into be-ing" (7). The leap is the transition from the first beginning to the other beginning. The leap away from the first beginning (metaphysics) initially takes the form of an "abground," or an abyss, as the solid ground of the first beginning disappears under one's feet, prompting intense disorientation. The goal of the leap, however, is the other beginning, which is a grounding of the truth of being.

    4. Grounding—"The grounding of truth as the truth of be-ing [is] (Da-sein)" (7). Here is the central section of the Beiträge, because we see that the turning is from the first beginning to the other beginning, and the grounding of the truth of being in the other beginning is accomplished in Dasein. Even in Being and Time, Heidegger was never primarily interested in human being as such, but only insofar as it provided as opening towards being itself. This is the mistake Sartre and other French existentialists make when they read Heidegger as a humanist. On the other hand, the turn away from Dasein is neither as radical nor as thorough as readers of the later Heidegger assume, because Dasein grounds the truth of being. The grounding of the other beginning is Dasein, which is the essence, or sway (wesen) of truth. The structure of truth is an essential swaying, or a projecting-open of being. "But since truth must be grounded in Da-sein, the essential swaying of be-ing can only be achieved in the steadfastness which the t/here [Da] sustains in the knowing awareness that is so determined" (202).

    5. The Ones to Come—"The ones to come are in that grounding-attunement; and as so attuned, they are destined by the last god" (278). Heidegger mentions Hölderlin in this section as the most futural of the ones to come, but he also has Nietzsche in mind when he refers to the "going-under" necessary for the anticipation of the ones to come. The thinkers, philosophers or poets of the future are those who are attuned to the other beginning, and "those who go-under are the ones who constantly question" (278). The ones to come ground Da-sein by attending to the other beginning and awaiting the last god.

    6. The Last God—"The last is that which not only needs the longest fore-runnership but also itself is: not the ceasing, but the deepest beginning…" (285). Heidegger reads Nietzsche's "twilight of the idols" (Götzen-dämmerung) as "twilight of (the) god(s)" (Götterdämmerung), or what Nietzsche calls the death of God, and "with the death of this god, all theisms collapse" (289). Here the twilight or passing is the condition for a new beginning, in which attending to the passing of the last god and attuning oneself to the ground of being goes hand in hand. Humanity and divinity are intimately interrelated, and both are related to being: "god overpowers man, and man surpasses god—in immediacy, as it were, and yet both only in enowning, which is what the truth of what be-ing itself is" (292).

  1. Is Heidegger simply recapitulating Nietzsche in announcing the death of God? And what is the relationship here between God and being? Much contemporary theological debate on Heidegger takes its cue from Jean-Luc Marion's God Without Being, which reads Heidegger against Heidegger in order to displace the ontological difference as primary, so that God crosses being, but does not have to be. That is, God is not determined by being, and being is not the fundamental name of God, but rather the good. Being is a gift of God bestowed upon beings. In developing a theology that opposes the primacy of Heideggerian being, Marion follows Heidegger's explicit separation of philosophy and theology and his assertions that faith has no need of a philosophical discourse concerning being in his 1953 Zurich seminar. Marion claims, following Heidegger, that "the word Being must not intervene in a theological discourse," which emancipates theology from its metaphysical tutelage to philosophy and frees it to envision a free God who acts out of love and gives being in revelation.[1]

  2. In his celebrated essay, "How to Avoid Speaking: Denials," Derrida responds indirectly to Marion by distancing himself from negative theology. Derrida also quotes from Heidegger in his 1953 Zurich seminar: "Faith has no need for the thinking of Being."[2] Many thinkers interested in negative theology follow Marion's lead and ignore Derrida's later complication of Heidegger's explicit statements. Derrida draws attention to the complexity of the word without (sans) in "God without being," suggesting that God is always with and without being, because a pure differentiation of the two is impossible. Derrida claims:

  3. Hasn't Heidegger written what he says he would have liked to write, a theology without the word being? But didn't he also write what he says should not be written, namely a theology that is open, dominated, and invaded by the word being? [3]
  4. The central issue here is the entanglement of God (or god) and being (or be-ing) at the core of the Heidegger's thought, as Derrida suggests. This is most explicitly visible in the Beiträge, which complicates Heidegger's later expressed desire to separate philosophy from theology, faith from the thinking of being. Here Heidegger discusses the last god in explicitly theological terms:

  5. But the last god, is that not debasing god, nay the greatest blasphemy? But what if the last god has to be so named because in the end the decision about gods brings under and among gods and thus makes what is own most to the uniqueness of the divine being most prominent? (286).
  6. Of course, the fact that Heidegger uses the term God (or god) does not make his philosophy a theology, nor does it necessarily delineate an intimate relationship between god and being. In some ways, being remains the key term here, and god is seen as complementary with Dasein, because both god and humanity need being, which recedes or refuses to captured and/or contained. On the other hand, the flight or passing of the last god structurally repeats the receding of being, such that god passes by humanity in order to follow being, and it is this movement that calls for human response. Both being and god are defined in terms of refusal:

  7. What if that domain of decision as a whole, flight or arrival of gods, were itself the end? What if, beyond that, be-ing in its truth would have to be grasped for the first time as enownment, as that which enowns what we call refusal? (285).
  8. The flight or passing of the last god testifies to the radical refusal of being, and demands the turning away from the first beginning toward the other beginning. It is this turning (Kehre) which fundamentally expresses Ereignis or enownment: "enowning has its innermost occurrence and its widest reach in the turning" (286). By following the refusal of being in its flight, the last god "awaits the grounding of the truth of be-ing and thus awaits man's leaping into Da-sein" (293).

  9. However one ultimately understands the situation Heidegger describes, any viability or credibility it possesses pertains to the enormous effort Heidegger makes to comprehend the difficulty of understanding being, humanity and God. These concepts are both elusive and historical, and resist being pinned down. One important question implied is how to respond to such a condition. That is, if being and God have refused human attempts to grasp them, and have withdrawn or passed us by, what response is called for? This is the trajectory of Gelassenheit, or "letting the being of beings be" that Heidegger develops in his later thought. Despite, and possibly even because of, his entanglements with National Socialism, Heidegger's notion of Gelassenheit is a profoundly ethical response, even though it may appear antinomian from the standpoint of conventional morality. Heidegger counsels attending to the withdrawal of being and the flight of god while not impressing our own intentionality upon them, opening ourselves up to/for the other beginning, which is a true revelation of being. Marion draws out the theological consequences in a more conventional religious context, but he fails to move beyond the orbit of Heidegger's thinking on this point.

  10. A logic of Gelassenheit is a logic of surrender, an opening up of thought which is a freeing of thought, which is a cure for subjective distortions of desire which impose conditions on being and the divine. However, perhaps the situation calls for a more desperate response. What if being and God are beyond our reach, not merely our control? The problem is one of forgetting, where Heidegger diagnoses the forgetting of the question of being, and/or in theological terms, forgetting the death of God. Is there a human response that refuses either to forget the question or to cling single-mindedly to God in its flight and being in its refusal? Would such a response consist of a rejection of being and/or God? Rejection would have to be understood in terms of Julia Kristeva's notion of rejection, which she develops in Revolution in Poetic Language. A rejection of God and/or being perhaps would be psychotic in a general sense, but again it is Kristeva who reminds us that "psychosis is the crisis of truth in language."[4] Rather than using the terms God and being, Kristeva in her essay on "Le vréel" focuses on the conjunction of truth and the real, which both recede or withdraw from Western intellectual inquiry. This refusal of humanity on the part of the true/real echoes the refusal of being and the flight of the last god in Heidegger's thought, but Kristeva articulates a more desperate response, which involves rejection of the true/real by (re)creating it under specific conditions in artistic discourse as an icon. The icon is an instance of a revolutionary poetic language that reinscribes the semiotic into the symbolic. The production of an icon foreshadows Marion's distinction between idol and icon in God Without Being, but Kristeva's icon is produced rather than revealed. A progression from Heidegger to Kristeva concerning these issues is less obvious but perhaps more productive than the more conventional theological move from Heidegger to Marion and/or Derrida.

  11. Heidegger's Beiträge is a powerful and visionary work of philosophy with many complexities and difficulties. I have ignored important issues, such as the chronological placement of this work in relation to Heidegger's political and ethical thought and the circumstances surrounding his Nazism. I have attempted to provide a sense of the core structure of the work, and also to establish two conclusions. A careful reading of the Contributions to Philosophy shows, (1) that it is more accurate and useful to attend to the turning within Heidegger's thought than to simply assert a 'turn' away from Dasein and towards being which essentially did not occur, except in terms of certain emphases; (2) that the contemporary discussions concerning Heidegger and negative theology are one-sided and rely too much on Marion's radical separation of God and being, whereas the Beiträge shows their profound entanglement in Heidegger's thought. I suggest an alternative relation between Heidegger and Kristeva surrounding the notion of refusal/rejection. Attention to these entanglements is imperative for any current theological thinking influenced by continental philosophy.


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